Nov 30


Super-Giant Black Hole Baffles Scientists (ABC News)

Super-Giant Black Hole Baffles Scientists (ABC News, Nov 29, 2012):

You would probably not enjoy the galaxy NGC 1277. Never mind that it’s far – 220 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus. The problem is that at its center is a giant, giant black hole, 17 billion times as massive as our sun, so big that scientists calculate it makes up 59 percent of the mass of the galaxy’s disc.

Astrophysicists have long believed that there’s a black hole at the center of our Milky Way, but it probably accounts for something like 0.1 percent of the galaxy’s center. The one in NGC 1277, scientists report in today’s edition of the journal Nature, is the second largest they’ve ever observed, and it upends what they thought about how galaxies form.

Black holes, as you’ll recall, are objects in space so massive that their gravity consumes everything around them – stars, planets, matter, energy, even light. Earthly scientists can only observe their effect on the space around them, not see them directly. Be grateful we’re not close to one. They’re actually useful to astrophysicists in explaining the nice spiral shape of many galaxies – you need something massive in the middle for the stars to circle – but NGC 1277 is an extreme. Continue reading »

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Jul 28

Russian telescope launch pulls national space program out of black hole (Christian Science Monitor, July 19, 2011):

Russian scientists are jubilant at news that the Spektr-R, a powerful space telescope conceived in the depths of the cold war, was finally lofted into orbit aboard a Zenit rocket Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Once it is fully operational, the new radio telescope will sync up with ground-based observatories to form the biggest telescope ever built. It will be known as RadioAstron, with a “dish” spanning 30 times the Earth’s diameter. Experts say it will be able to deliver images from the remote corners of the universe at 10,000 times the resolution of the US Hubble Space Telescope.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for such a long time,” says Nikolai Podorvanyuk, a researcher at the official Institute of Astronomy in Moscow.

“It’s been planned since the 1980s, but has repeatedly fallen through for a variety of reasons. But now it’s here, and we’re bracing for all the new information it’s going to deliver, especially about black holes,” he says. Continue reading »

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Aug 20

A neutron star with a mighty magnetic field has thrown down the gauntlet to theories about stellar evolution and the birth of black holes, astronomers said today.

magnetic-mega-star-discovery-challenges-black-hole-theory
This artist’s impression of a magnetar contains hundreds of very massive stars, some shining with a brilliance of almost one million suns Photo: ESO

The “magnetar” lies in a cluster of stars known as Westerlund 1, located 16,000 light years away in the constellation of Ara, the Altar.

Westerlund 1, discovered in 1961 by a Swedish astronomer, is a favoured observation site in stellar physics. It is one of the biggest cluster of superstars in the Milky Way, comprising hundreds of very massive stars, some shining with a brilliance of almost a million Suns and some two thousand times the Sun’s diameter.

The cluster is also, by the standards of the Universe, very young.

The stars were all born from a single event just three and a half to five million years ago.

Within Westerlund 1 is the remains of one of galaxy’s few magnetars – a particular kind of neutron star, formed from the explosion of a supernova, that can exert a magnetic field a million, billion times strong than Earth’s.

The Westerlund star which eventually became the magnetar must have been at least 40 times the mass of the Sun, according to the study, which appears in the research journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. If so, intriguing questions are raised.

The mainstream assumption is that stars of between 10 and 25 solar masses go on to form neutron stars. But those above 25 solar masses produce black holes — the light-gobbling gravitational monsters that are formed when a massive, dying star collapses in on itself.

In that case, the magnetar’s mother should have become a black hole because it was so big.

But another alternative, say the authors, is that the star “slimmed” to a lower mass, enabling it to become a neutron star.

How did this happen? The answer, says the paper, could lie in a binary system: the star that became the magnetar was born with a stellar companion.

As the stars evolved, they began to interact, and the companion star, like a demonic twin, began to steal mass from the progenitor star.

Eventually the progenitor exploded, becoming a supernova. Continue reading »

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Sep 05

Scientists working on the world’s biggest machine are being besieged by phone calls and emails from people who fear the world will end next Wednesday, when the gigantic atom smasher starts up.

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, where particles will begin to circulate around its 17 mile circumference tunnel next week, will recreate energies not seen since the universe was very young, when particles smash together at near the speed of light.


Hadron Collider: The final pieces slot into place

Such is the angst that the American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even had death threats, said Prof Brian Cox of Manchester University, adding: “Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t—.”

The head of public relations, James Gillies, says he gets tearful phone calls, pleading for the £4.5 billion machine to stop.

Continue reading »

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Jun 02


10-year-old takes college by storm

Sophomore holds an A-plus average in subjects like algebra, astronomy

DOWNEY, Calif. – With the end of another school year approaching, college sophomore Moshe Kai Cavalin is cramming for final exams in classes such as advanced mathematics, foreign languages and music.

But Cavalin is only 10 years old. And at 4-foot-7, his shoes don’t quite touch the floor as he puts down a schoolbook and swivels around in his chair to greet a visitor.

“I’m studying statistics,” says the alternately precocious and shy Cavalin, his textbook lying open on the living room desk of his parents’ apartment in this quiet suburb east of Los Angeles.

Within a year, if he keeps up his grades and completes the rest of his requirements, he hopes to transfer from his two-year program at East Los Angeles College to a prestigious four-year school and study astrophysics.

‘Wormholes’ a primary interest
One of his primary interests is “wormholes,” a hypothetical scientific phenomenon connected to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. It has been theorized that if such holes do exist in space, they could — in tandem with black holes — allow for the kind of space-age time travel seen in science fiction.

“Just like black holes, they suck in particulate objects, and also like black holes, they also travel at escape velocity, which is, the speed to get out of there is faster than the speed of light,” Cavalin says. “I’d like to prove that wormholes are really there and prove all the theories are correct.”

First, he has statistics homework to finish. Later, he’ll work with his mother, Shu Chen Chien, to brush up on his Mandarin for his Chinese class. Then it’s over to the piano to prepare for his recital in music class.

His father, Yosef Cavalin, frets about the piano-playing, noting that his only child recently broke his arm pursuing another passion, martial arts. He has won several trophies for his age group. Continue reading »

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Mar 31

More fighting in Iraq. Somalia in chaos. People in this country can’t afford their mortgages and in some places now they can’t even afford rice.None of this nor the rest of the grimness on the front page today will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will spell the end of the Earth – and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely – though they have done some checking just to make sure.

The world’s physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.” Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

collider.jpg Continue reading »

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